Tony Shalhoub has a lead role in the buzzy Broadway musical “The Band’s Visit” — despite the fact that he’s never sung on stage before.
But it seems to have worked out okay. The show opens on Broadway Nov. 9 after winning over the critics — and picking up a slew of awards — in its Off Broadway debut last season. In this episode of “Stagecraft,” Shalhoub, his co-star Katrina Lenk (“Indecent”) and two of the show’s creators, David Yazbek and Itamar Moses, talk about the challenges of bringing to Broadway a quiet, gentle show that’s as much about what’s not said (or sung) as what is.
“I guess we just don’t have a tap number,” admits Lenk, who had a breakout season last year with “Band’s Visit” and “Indecent.” “But there is roller skating!”
The 2007 Israeli film “The Band’s Visit,” about an Egyptian policemen’s band that takes a wrong turn in the Israeli desert, seems unlikely source material for a musical. But both songwriter Yazbek (“Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”) and book writer Moses (“The Fortress of Solitude”) have a history of adapting more challenging material.
Moses posits that the earnestness of the musical form makes adapting more obvious source material even harder. “It might actually be a huge trap, where you’re sort of doubling down on a kind of wet-eyed sincerity that’s already in the material, and then you end up with a hat on top of a hat,” he says. “Whereas if you do something that’s dark or ironic or that resists musicalization in certain ways, you end up with a tension that helps the thing work better.”
The actors and creators also discuss how a recent trip to Israel inspired them. Yazbek remembers how a car ride inspired him to write a new song, explains how improvisation is incorporated in the musical’s score and describes an impromptu concert that the “Band’s Visit” team gave in the Israeli town that inspired the film. Cracks Moses of the performance, “It was like a less upsetting version of dueling banjos from ‘Deliverance.'”